By Gretchen Crowe
On July 8, 1961, two extraordinary happenings occurred in Colorado. The first was that it was snowing in the mountains in July. The second, Lorene Arnoldy gave birth to her fifth child, Brian Augustine, at Denver General Hospital. Brian’s mother raised her four boys and her daughter, and as Brian said, “She raised five hellions; she really did her best.” The family moved all over the state, sometimes hopping between jobs, but often with Lorene as a stay-at-home, single mom.
Brian claims allegiance to Columbine Grade School in Boulder, Shaw Heights Junior High in Westminster and Central High in Aurora, where he finished ninth grade. Brian then began work as a dishwasher at Furr’s. “Funny thing when I left high school, I couldn’t read. I was illiterate,” he said. “Well, my family was dysfunctional; it wasn’t the best environment to learn.” In fact, a lot of Brian’s upbringing was dysfunctional. None of this can be detected from his soft demeanor and sense of awareness, all wrapped into his helpful nature. He has certainly overcome a lot.
Right at his eighteenth birthday, Brian enlisted in the Army, shipping off to Germany after boot camp. “After getting to Germany, I bought a dictionary and a copy of ‘War and Peace,’” he said. “A great read, by the way… I would read until I couldn’t understand a word. Then I would look it up, copy it and the definition down ten times in a notebook, and just keep going that way. It took me six months to get through the first third of the book, and then during the next six months, I finished the rest of it. See, my goal was to read Shakespeare and understand it. And I am proud I can read and understand it now.” He smirked as he said it. In fact, last time he was tested, Brian has a grade sixteen reading level.
While in Germany, Brian had a daughter, Hiki, who still lives in Germany and works as a translator. Brian was discharged for not being able to adapt to military life and moved back to Denver after nearly two years away. He was offered a job as a bouncer and moved up to bartender. He worked the circuit of popular clubs in the 80’s, until one day he quit to enjoy his own time. He worked various jobs at a temp agency, then got a job as a “maid” in Vail. That’s where he found Christianity, which he says has “changed and shaped my life so positively.”
About the same time, Brian went to prison for a couple of years. “I have no doubt that I deserved to be in prison at that time, but that’s where I learned to control my anger. In prison,” he says. When he got out, he went back to temp work until he hurt his back at his home in May 2007. Without being able to work and without workman’s comp, Brian has been trying to get approved for Social Security and other assistance since, which is not an easy undertaking.
Brian became “homeless” in August. It’s a vague term in his case, because August was only the point at which he couldn’t live with his other family, not actually when he lost his own place. Brian also lost his mom on November 1. He has seen a lot of pain this year.
But one positive is that he walked through the doors of the Denver VOICE. As Brian says, “I now know the meaning of my life. My mission is to make someone else’s life better. If we all did it, everyone would live much better lives.” Brian loves it that he gets to greet people everyday while vending—especially the mornings, his favorite time of the day.
Brian also says of the VOICE, “it gives us the opportunity to share. It’s a little community, if someone is hurting, we all come to together to make it better—even the most selfish of us vendors.” Brian has tapped into the immeasurable community of the VOICE Vendor Program. He hopes to someday go back to college and become a counselor. He wants to help ease the pain in this world, and with an ear like his, counseling is an appropriate and admirable goal.